Two Green Berets Riding Coast to Coast with One Clear Mission
Writer / Janet C. Striebel
Photographer / Keeley Miller
The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a report indicating that since 9/11, nearly 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans treated at VA hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This percentage would even be higher if we were to account for all those who haven’t been diagnosed.
So far, first year treatment is costing the government more than $2 billion or about $8,300 per person. What’s more, veterans account for 20 percent of U.S. suicides. This rising concern for PTSD and its effect on our soldiers is catching the attention of some citizens such as former Geist resident Zack Garner who has served in the Army and Special Forces until battling a traumatic brain injury.
Now Zack is focused on helping other veterans who are suffering. He and his brother, Adam Smith, also Special Forces, are training for something really special — a coast-to-coast bike ride to raise awareness for PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
Zack used to attend Holy Spirit at Geist with his mom, Della Garner. He was very active in Life Teen before he joined the Army and was deployed twice to Iraq.
Eight years ago, I wrote an article about Zack as he reached out to his Holy Spirit Life Teen contacts. He was looking to spread the word to Geist residents about sending cards and toiletry items to cheer up members of his unit stationed in Baghdad. Since then, he has not only served in Iraq and the U.S. Army Special Forces, but he has also completed two more tours in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, on September 11, 2013, Zack had a seizure while in Afghanistan. He learned that he had suffered a traumatic brain injury, and as a result, he was medically discharged.
“When medically separated from the special operations community, I felt I had lost my identity,” says Zack. “There was no heads up, no time to start mentally preparing myself; I went from standing among the U.S. Army’s elite to being a 30-year-old who was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life and balance a family at the same time.”
Zack and Adam, known as the Green Beret Adventure Team, will begin their fundraising expedition in early August to help support the Task Force Dagger Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to wounded, injured or ill soldiers and their families. You can visit taskforcedagger.org for more information.
This same organization helped Zack, his wife Lindsey and daughter Scout throughout a very difficult time in their lives.
As Zack began to process the reality of his new life, he began to lean on the one activity that has always helped him stay focused and in control: cycling. He recognized that riding his bicycle was a major component to his inner healing. In fact, both he and his wife noticed an improvement in his temperament on days when he would ride.
“My two passions are cycling and helping soldiers” says Zack. “I picked Task Force Dagger as my first option because they assisted in helping my family out with a hotel as we transitioned out of the military and also because I care deeply about the Special Forces community that cared for us during our time of need. I have come up with a vision for how I can bridge these two passions and influence the future of soldiers that are in the same boat I was in – The Ride to Valhalla.”
Currently, Zack and Adam, both living in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, are training with the help of Pellicano Endurance to prepare for the 4,600 mile ride which will begin in Seattle, Washington, and end in Destin, Florida.
As they ride their bikes from coast to coast, they plan to visit the bases where Special Forces soldiers are stationed. Though Zack came from a small town in Geist, his mission is huge in his intention to help as many soldiers and their families as possible.
“I know that there are plenty of soldiers that have been in my situation, and some that have had it much worse than I did,” he says. “If I can take my struggles, share my lessons learned with others and provide resources to make their transition successful, then I have completed my goal of once again being a part of something bigger than myself.”
To help support this mission, visit crowdrise.com/RideToValhalla/fundraiser/GBAT to make a donation.
To learn more, visit taskforcedaggar.org and click on the “Ride to Valhalla.”